Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
June 14, 2016
1 Kings 21:17-29, Ps 51, Mt 5:43-48
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- During this two-and-a-half week annual refresher course on the Christian life that Jesus gives us as we enter step-by-step into his Sermon on the Mount, the point is always for us to adopt his standard of life as our own. He wants our righteousness to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, to have our conduct exceed that of the virtuous pagans whom he tells us today love those who love them. He wants us to learn how to become the perfect image of our Father just like he is, and the way we come to that perfection is through loving like God loves. In this Jubilee of Mercy, we recognize that to love like God loves we must be merciful like our Father is merciful. Today Jesus emphasizes that point and the first reading illustrates it.
- In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes for us the way God the Father loves and summons us to live according to that standard. Just like God the Father forgives and loves those who have made themselves his enemy through sin and serving other gods, so Jesus calls us to love and pardon our enemies. Just as he does everything he can to solicit the conversion of those who persecute him or those who believe in him, so Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. He says something startling about the importance of our doing so: so that we “may be children of [our] Father in heaven, who makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Jesus implies that we will not really become children of God until we start behaving like God, that he can be our Father without our being his children if we do not act as his children. By birth and by baptism, we are, ontologically, his children, but we still must strive to become morally his children. Jesus calls us to be good — to let our sun or life-giving rain fall — not just on those who are good to us but even on those who are not good to us, just like the Father does. We are not behaving as chips off the old divine block when we don’t love others enough to forgive them when they hurt us, to pray for them when they persecute us, to sacrifice for them when they’re in need, to avoid all vengeance against them when they strike us on our cheek or otherwise hurt or offend us. When Jesus calls us at the end of the passage to be “perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect,” the word in the Greek is teleios, which means “fit to achieve its end or goal.” Jesus is summoning us to order our lives to the same purpose and same goal as God the Father, to achieve the end for which we were made, which is to be fully in the image and likeness of God, to be holy as God is holy, to love like God loves, to be merciful as he is merciful, to behave truly as children of our Father.
- God shows us how to do that in today’s first reading. He sends Elijah to confront King Ahab who is seizing the field of his neighbor Naboth whom Queen Jezebel had conspired to have framed and stoned to death. Ahab explicitly confronts Elijah as his adversary, saying, “Have you found me out, my enemy?” Ahab opposed and even through Jezebel sought to kill Elijah because Elijah was calling him to convert from his worship of Ba’al, because he had “given [himself] up to evil in the Lord’s sight,” provoking God “by leading Israel into sin,” and becoming “completely abominable by following idols, just as the Amorites had done.” But after Elijah’s strong words, Ahab repented. He tore his garments, put on sackcloth, fasted and went about subdued. God noted his conversion, his humbling himself begging for mercy, and God told Elijah, “Since he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his time. I will bring the evil upon his house during the reign of his son.” That saying, at first sight, can seem almost evil on God’s part: instead of punishing Ahab, he’ll take it out on Ahab’s progeny. But all that this means is that God was going to delay the natural consequences of Ahab’s and Jezebel’s maleficence on account of Ahab’s conversion. There are natural consequences to the type of corruption that they showed: other powers would be alienated and angry, the people would be fed up, the children raised in a corrupt home would themselves be disordered rulers. God was not going to be going out of his way to punish Ahab’s kids for Ahab’s sins, but instead Abab’s kids would reap the evil their father and grandfather had sown — especially if they failed to convert like their father. God the Father had let his rain and sunshine descend upon Ahab just like he had Elijah, but if people seek to live in a moral prison out of the sun and rain eventually they’ll suffer from the lack of those elements.
- The lesson for us, though, is if God can forgive Ahab, we, too, can forgive our enemies. For God, those who have made themselves His enemy are always his prodigal sons and daughters, whom he loves and whose return he seeks. For us, our adversaries are always our brothers and sisters. If we’re going truly to be children of our heavenly Father, then we need to see them as fallen-away children of the same heavenly Father. Hence we need to love them, to pray for them, to forgive them when they convert, conscious of the fact that God himself has previously loved us, prayed for our return, and reconciled us — as have so often our parents and many of our own spiritual siblings.
- The greatest Christians are those who act on these words of Jesus. We can think about St. Stephen, who became a son in the Son most beautifully in his martyrdom. Just as Jesus on the Cross loved his enemies and prayed for his persecutors that God the Father would forgive them for they knew not what they were doing, so the first martyr prayed during his stoning, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Those words have echoed throughout the centuries in the heroic forgiveness offered by so many martyrs, so many faithful spouses who were betrayed, so many friends who gave second chances after having been backstabbed, so many children who were let down, so many ordinary Christians who were victimized in one way or another but who became extraordinary Christians by forgiving, loving and praying as God the Father does and Jesus summons us to do today.
- There are a couple of other lessons I’d like to draw from today’s reading.
- The first is that God often allows us to have enemies and persecutors precisely so that we can grow to become like him. If our goal is to become “teleios” then, as difficult as it is humanly to have people oppose us, spiritually we will look at these people as our great benefactors, because they’re God’s chisels to sculpt us to become more like them. This is true both for those who have made their existence to oppose us — the enemies of the Church, the enemies of life, the enemies of everything we stand for — but also for those who are absolutely not our enemies but easily and regularly get under our skin. Morally they’re gifts to us drawing us to love them the way we love those we like more easily, to love them more and more because God loves them, to love them more and more like God.
- The second lesson is that God, as Jesus tells us, makes his rain fall on the just and unjust, his sun rise on the good and the bad. We can be grateful for this lesson because even when we’ve been unjust and bad, God in his mercy hasn’t stopped loving us. He’s let his grace come down upon us like he lets his sun rise and rain fall on the just, like the Blessed Mother and the saints. So even on our worst days, God doesn’t stop loving us or raining down upon us in his mercy the invitation to restoration.
- The type of love to which Jesus calls us today, it goes almost without saying, is very challenging. It goes beyond what reason would lead us to do or what any other religion has called its adherents to practice. It’s what makes the Christian life and Christian love distinctive. Jesus really does call us to act on these words, to begin to pray for those who oppose us and even try to harm or kill us, to forgive them, and — most of all — to love them with his own total self-sacrificial and unconquerable benevolence (agape). This is a standard of love that exceeds what we would be capable of on our own, but what’s impossible for us is not impossible for God. To make this possible, God has created a means by which we can enter truly into communion with him, so that his own love can flow through us. That’s what happens here in Mass, as by the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God the Father, we enter into communion with Jesus and are brought by him into the heart of the Trinitarian communion of love. As we prepare to receive Him now, let us ask in his Mercy for the grace to keep that loving communion alive, so that strengthened by the Lord, we might live truly as children of our heavenly Father and become teleios due to this loving yoke with the Father’s only Begotten Son we’re about to receive.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 KGS 21:17-29
After the death of Naboth the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite:
“Start down to meet Ahab, king of Israel,
who rules in Samaria.
He will be in the vineyard of Naboth,
of which he has come to take possession.
This is what you shall tell him,
‘The LORD says: After murdering, do you also take possession?
For this, the LORD says:
In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth,
the dogs shall lick up your blood, too.’”
Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me out, my enemy?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Because you have given yourself up to doing evil in the LORD’s sight,
I am bringing evil upon you: I will destroy you
and will cut off every male in Ahab’s line,
whether slave or freeman, in Israel.
I will make your house like that of Jeroboam, son of Nebat,
and like that of Baasha, son of Ahijah,
because of how you have provoked me by leading Israel into sin.”
(Against Jezebel, too, the LORD declared,
“The dogs shall devour Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.”)
“When one of Ahab’s line dies in the city,
dogs will devour him;
when one of them dies in the field,
the birds of the sky will devour him.”
Indeed, no one gave himself up to the doing of evil
in the sight of the LORD as did Ahab,
urged on by his wife Jezebel.
He became completely abominable by following idols,
just as the Amorites had done,
whom the LORD drove out before the children of Israel.
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his garments
and put on sackcloth over his bare flesh.
He fasted, slept in the sackcloth, and went about subdued.
Then the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite,
“Have you seen that Ahab has humbled himself before me?
Since he has humbled himself before me,
I will not bring the evil in his time.
I will bring the evil upon his house during the reign of his son.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 11 AND 16
R. (see 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Turn away your face from my sins,
and blot out all my guilt.
Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Gospel MT 5:43-48
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”